Spreading the Word
The Voice of a Christian
One of the strange realities of our newly-dawned “Information Age” is that we can become acutely aware of every great and serious topic from every sphere of life. Our local community hears news from our town, our state, our region, our nation, and the world.
One challenge this creates within the life of faith – and especially faith lived out in community, including our own parish, is that we can get hold of full or partial information about many of the great topics of our age. I confess that this is one of my greatest satisfactions from technology: it means quite a bit to me to be aware of the movements of history and nations, and to feel secure in my sense of my own place within them. I love to take up serious topics in conversation. The challenge of this is that our opinions, formed by diverse experiences and the different aspects of a story that we come to hear or experience, can become sources of tension, anxiety, or even division within our friendships, families, and churches.
I offer two thoughts in response. One is that Scripture is as true for us today in our Information Age as it was for the early churches to which Paul wrote – and in particular the community of the church in Corinth. I encourage you all sometime to read Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (you can finish it in about 20 minutes). It’s a letter to a church divided: they’ve chosen different leaders, and they’re unclear about what public Christian behavior should be, what sexual morality should be, and whether they still have a need of the Jewish law or not (any of this sound familiar?). Paul writes wonderful things to them, including a reminder that no human vision is perfect (“now we see in a mirror, dimly” 1 Cor 13:12), and that we all have a need of one another (“For just as a body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. […] The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” 1 Cor 12:12, 21). Paul understood that those who seek to follow Jesus would disagree in good conscience, but that it’s Christ who gathers us all together again, in spite of the visions and expectations we have – as scattered today as they ever were after Babel way back in Genesis 11!
The other thought is this: Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury and head of our sister church, the Church of England, wrote this in a Lenten book called Christ on Trial (one of my favorite spiritual reads): “In the late nineties, Britain and other countries took up arms against tyrannical regimes elsewhere in the world. These military adventures may or may not have been justified or helpful, but the underlying problem for the Christian is how to be truthful about them. Yes, there is a cost in civilian deaths. Yes, such and such a policy, at home or abroad, will cost resources that will not therefore be available for other things. Yes, politics is frequently about the choosing where the cost will come, not about finding a cost-free option. The Christian is certainly called on to take up the unpopular position of being the person who asks about specific costs, about the tragic element in public decisions – not to turn the screws of guilt, but to remind us that facing cost is the only adult way of understanding the full nature of freedom. The Christian may also be the person who has the still more unpopular task of saying that this particular cost is unacceptable in terms of social or international wellbeing or public integrity,” (p 115).
It strikes me that we are in a time where that is precisely the public conversation we are having. Christians, and others, are raising our voices to face costs: the cost of taking on risk in our own nation if we seek to shelter others and someone who would do us violence might slip in amongst those fleeing that same violence, and the cost of locking in the innocent with the terrible. Each of these comments is a matter of facing cost: each has at its core a hope that human lives will not remain in danger.
I have already valued at Saint Augustine that we are able to have these conversations and understand that our higher commitment is to remain a part of Christ’s Body the Church together. That whatever cost is paid, we will acknowledge it soberly with our prayer and, when possible, our relief. We have had Syrian refugees as visitors at our parish on several occasions, and they have been treated with respect and hospitality. Few of us have the ear of the powerful, to offer our voice directly to them, but I believe we take on fully the challenge of living out the faith that demands that we follow Jesus, and not our own simple pleasures, and I believe that we have the capacity for loving conversation even around the weightiest topics of our age.
May we never neglect to face the true costs of our choices, nor the actions of our nation, and may we always speak to one another what we could also offer to God in prayer,
Fr Benedict Varnum,
St. Augustine of Canterbury, Omaha
There is still time to fill out an application for your parish to be a Project Resource partner. As you learned at annual council, five Nebraskans are now trained as parish consultants to assist with your annual parish stewardship campaign and with soliciting major gifts. The application form to work with one of our diocesan consultants can be found here.
Here is the annual council presentation text:
One day, a local parish church whose mission is hampered by a lack of gifts or low membership will be able to reach out and get free expert counsel on theology, spirituality, and tools for raising money and people.
One day, a local diocesan leader will be able to respond to a call from their Bishop or diocesan leader from a local parish seeking help.
One day, no church will be held back because their clergy or lay leaders do not know how to raise money, manage strategic communications, manage membership, manage membership invitation programs, of encourage investment in mission.
One day, no clergy person, no new stewardship chair, no senior warden, no campaign manager will need to re-invent documents, models, systems, or processes for raising money or membership.
One day, no church will wince at not having the financial and human resources needed to accomplish the call of the Holy Spirit.
Recently, a diocesan team consisting of Bishop Barker and four others—two clergy and two lay persons—joined leaders from around the Episcopal Church for the pilot of Project Resource, a movement dedicated to increasing philanthropy and raising membership in congregations of every size. Our Nebraska team was trained in Project Resource to provide model documents to all so that no mission needs to go underfunded because a church does not know how to raise money and people. We were trained in Project Resource with the understanding that we would “pay it forward” to congregations in our Diocese that want or need help developing an annual stewardship campaign, soliciting major gifts, or establishing a legacy society.
Project Resource is more than just another stewardship program: This is a culture change in the way people of faith understand their relationship with money. In an age of deep debt and over-consumption, Project Resource is deeply rooted in a Christian spirituality of stewardship, providing people with the liberating tools they need to loosen the chains of power that money so often holds, finding instead the joy and true freedom of sacrificial giving. The ambitious goal our Project Resource Team has set is to train leaders in each of the 52 congregations of the Diocese of Nebraska in the next five years. Beginning in January 2016, we will train six Diocese of Nebraska congregations to join the Project Resource movement. Today we invite those congregations that are interested in being a part of this pilot group to submit an application. Applications can be obtained from Canon Liz Easton. There is just one caveat: Congregations who choose to participate in this pilot group must be prepared to “pay it forward” to other congregations who also seek to accomplish the call of the Holy Spirit unhindered by the lack of financial and human resources.
One day, no clergy will wish they had been taught financial development or marketing in seminary.
One day, no senior warden will wish they took classes in school or had money to hire consultants for general campaign management.
One day, all the congregations of the Diocese of Nebraska will have immediate and free access to Project Resource, the best and most effective tools available to raise the money and the people they need to engage God’s mission.
DioNE welcomes The Rev. Dr. Daniel Prechtel, Author of recent book, Where Two or Three are Gathered: Spiritual Direction for Small Groups, Morehouse Publishing. The general theme for for these sessions is “Spiritual Companionship: Holy Trinity, Spiritual Direction, and Discernment”
Come to three separate and informative events led by Rev. Prechtel:
Regional Clergy Workshop: Friday, Aug. 22, 10 am to 3 pm, St. Francis Church, Scottsbluff.
“A Trinitarian Understanding of Spiritual Companionship”
“Spiritual Direction in the Postmodern Era”
“Spiritual Direction and Discernment”
Western Deanery Lecture: Saturday, Aug. 23, 10 am to 11 am, St. Matthew’s Church, Alliance.
“Small Group Forms of Spiritual Companionship”
Church Leaders Workshop: Saturday, Aug. 23, 2:30 pm to 5 pm, St. Matthew’s Church, Alliance.
“The Dance of Spiritual Discernment”
“Guiding Symbols and Discernment”
A free-will offering will be will be requested at the Deanery Meeting to cover the cost of the meal.
In addition to these events, Rev. Prechtel will be preaching and celebrating the Eucharist at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Alliance, NE on Sunday, August 24th.
Rev. Prechtel is a spiritual director and consultant with Lamb & Lion Spiritual Guidance Ministries, which provides personal, group and church/organization spiritual direction and counseling. He also offers long-distance spiritual guidance as well as online spiritual direction and dreamwork groups. Rev. Prechtel is currently working on a book about spiritual discernment and how spiritual practices such as depth prayer, meditation, and dreamwork can help us become aware of “guiding symbols” that assist us in discovering our way forward in our personal and communal lives.
For more information: Contact Father Coke McClure
1225 Box Butte Avenue, Alliance, NE 69301
Phone: 308-760-5031 firstname.lastname@example.org
It gives me great joy to invite you to join many of your fellow Nebraska Episcopalians at your cathedral on Saturday, March 8, for a day of learning, sharing, praying, singing, and celebrating our common call to know Jesus and to make him known.
The Reverend Ernesto Medina and I have invited a variety of lay and ordained leaders to offer one-hour workshops on different aspects of faith and ministry. The only guideline we gave them was to talk about their passion. As you can see from the workshop descriptions, there will be an extraordinarily diverse and rich array of offerings. It promises to be a fun, joyful, educational, and inspirational day.
If you find there are more workshops you are interested in than you can attend, bring a friend, or a whole team from you parish! We hope this will become an annual occasion for us to gather together and learn from one another.
There is no cost to attend this event, and ALL are welcome. We’re asking folks to bring a brown bag lunch to help minimize the overall cost of the day. To help us get a better sense of how many people are attending, please e-mail Deacon Ellen Ross in the cathedral office at email@example.com the number of people from your parish that plan to attend. I very much hope you’ll join us, and that you will let me know if you have any questions, or thoughts and ideas about future Ministry Fairs. I look forward to seeing you on March 8!
(The Very Reverend) Craig Loya
Dean, Trinity Cathedral, Omaha
|Click on the image at the right to download a PDF of the detailed session descriptions|
|Click on the image at the right to download a PDF that shows the schedule of offerings in summary form|
Dear People of God at Holy Apostles
So. Here we are, at the very beginning of a new calendar year. In terms of the cycle of time as measured by the church tomorrow is Epiphany. Now is the season that celebrates the light of Christ coming into the world. In this letter I want to reflect briefly on an experience I had while visiting in Georgia last week. Holly and I decided that on Sunday we needed to take a church field trip. This notion of a church field trip grew out of a class I took in seminary. The professor thought it important that we experience lots of the different ways Christian people worship so on a succession of summer Sundays we visited a great variety of churches. Anyway. Back to the main point. Last Sunday we decided to visit TwelveStone, the fastest growing church in the fasted growing county in Georgia. We decided to visit the main “campus” even though one of the satellite facilities was a bit closer. Campus is just the right word here. The church has beautifully landscaped 64 acre space that includes worship and education facilities, even a Starbucks, in one large building. They also have a “prayer trail” for outdoor prayer walking and other outdoor facilities. The main worship center is a 2600 seat auditorium style space. We learned from one “greeter” that this was a low Sunday and yet that auditorium as 90% full. They have four services every Sunday, Saturday services and weekday services as well. In short TwelveStone is a mega church in every sense of the word.
I will say that for me, because church growth is one of my central concerns, a question arose. What are these people doing? Certainly there is a clue in that notion that Gwinnett county, a suburban county close to Atlanta, is experiencing great population growth. It takes a big population to support that kind of growth. Still, is there something to be learned here? I think there is.
It was clearly obvious to me that this church is quite intentionally doing a great many of the things that church growth experts suggest are important. They do a lot of very effective advertising using a variety of media. On entering the building a visitor is greeted by lay members of the church who have clearly had some education about greeting and helping people feel comfortable. The woman who stepped up to greet us made a real effort to learn our names and use them. She asked questions that expressed her interest in us. She made a point to learn what we needed for information about the church, the worship, and, because we had Robert with us, childcare. She walked us upstairs to the childcare center and helped us get settled. there. She offered coffee (TwelveStone serves 200 gallons of free coffee every Sunday) and showed us where to find restrooms. She didn’t leave until she was sure we were comfortable and could find our way around. That was impressive in itself. It was also clear throughout the visit that TwelveStone makes good use of technology to help people get and stay connected with the church. Because the church is so large there are a variety of small groups to fit the needs of the members. And, after asking for our addresses, they do some intentional follow-up.
But let’s go a little deeper here. I was impressed with the obvious focus on spiritual growth. There is an expectation that members desire that spiritual growth (research, in fact, backs that expectation up). The sermon focused on practical ways people could grow spiritually. The pastor’s first point was that prayer is always important. It was clear to me that he paired praying with Bible study and that prayer, rather than being a litany of requests to G-d involved a good deal of listening for what G-d has to say. A vital prayer life leads on into service. I heard a strong focus on lay ministry. They have a variety of groups that help people get involved with various service opportunities. TwelveStone seeks to meet a variety of needs in the surrounding communities. The last point in the pastor’s sermon involved the idea of inviting others to TwelveStone. Members are encouraged to invite others and there are opportunities to learn how to invite others. The pastor was clear that when a member is praying and serving their spiritual growth will lead them to invite other to share the good thing they have found. He stressed inviting friends who don’t have a church. He noted that many people might say,” well, I don’t have friends who don’t have a church”. His response, “Go make some. It’s not hard. Lots of people have no church”. I love that, and I know it to be true.
We don’t live in an area of high population growth but we most assuredly have people who have no church all around us. We most assuredly have people with deep needs both physical and spiritual all around us. And, yes, we do need to be growing spiritually every day. There is a potential for growth here as there is anywhere. Meanwhile it is Epiphany when we celebrate the light of Christ coming into the world. That’s our job as Christian people, to bring Christ’s light into the world around us. And we have so many gifts to offer.
I pray that each of you may be blessed by an awareness of God’s gifts even while you are pushed by God to find holy uses for those gifts.
Mother Carol Ann
“May Christ, the Son of God, be manifest in you, that your lives may be a light to the world; and the blessing of God Almighty, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you , and remain with you always.” Amen (Seasonal Blessing for Epiphany from The Book of Occasional Services.)
Long story short, I came across the Advent Photo-A-Day challenge cruising through Twitter where I follow ChurchSocMed #chsocm. This photo challenge was focusing on Advent and is sponsored by ReThinkChurch.
I’ve seen these photo challenges before and always thought they sounded fun. Luckily for me I serve on the communications committee at St. Augustine’s, Elkhorn and I spoke with another committee member about the possibility of doing this at St. Augustine’s. My co-committee member launched the challenge via our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/events/221312724715623/), setting it up as an event. We invited Facebook friends to join the event and have 13 people participating at St. Augustine’s.
The cool thing about social media is the way information spreads. Now I am seeing friends from across the diocese and beyond, as well the group from my parish participating in the daily photo challenge.
I’ve been pretty inspired by some of the photos and their descriptions that people are posting. It never fails that someone else interprets the daily word in a way different manner than I do and so it is stretching my thoughts and understanding.
If you would like to join along all you have to do is visit ReThink Church on Facebook and get the daily word schedule and then start taking pictures and posting! They encourage the use of the their #ReThinkChurch hashtag if you are sharing your photos on Twitter or Facebook!
– Noelle Ptomey
P.S. If you’re not a friend of St. Augustine’s on Facebook, come like our page! https://www.facebook.com/st.augustine.omaha
Members of St. Mary’s Parish in Blair participated in the Sugar Plum Festival on Thursday, November 21 along with special guest, Deacon Wes Agar as St. Nicholas. The Sugar Plum Festival is an annual event in the Blair community taking place the Thursday prior to Thanksgiving throughout the downtown business district. It is a community wide celebration intended to ring in the upcoming holiday season. Children and their families visit business, organizations, and churches throughout downtown Blair and receive goodies and information regarding each participant. St. Mary’s parishioners handed out candy canes along with postcards containing a story about the candy cane’s history as well as parish related information; Deacon Wes Agar of course passed out golden chocolate coins with a song about the tradition of St. Nicholas. The festival normally brings out approximately 850-1000 Blair residents; it was a very successful and fun evening spreading the Love and Word of God!
Thanks to the Blair Chamber of Commerce for the photos below!
Around lunchtime on Tuesdays, a bright pink sign appears on the sidewalk outside Trinity Cathedral: “DEO–Open for prayer”.
DEO stands for Downtown Episcopal Outreach, a ministry housed at Trinity Cathedral but staffed by people from several parishes.
There are two components to DEO. The less visible component that runs throughout the week quietly provides funds to people in need through partner agencies. If, for example, a guest at Siena Francis House needs a prescription filled or a bus ticket to get to a new job, DEO could pay for that need. This part of the program helps us meet the needs of people who have been vetted by professionals who can assure us that the need is real.
The more visible component is what DEO does on Tuesdays. When the pink sign goes out, DEO gathers for a simple Eucharist or noonday prayer. Guests can get out of the weather and join us in prayer or simply rest.
DEO provides space for prayer, people to talk with or pray with, reading material, help connecting with agencies that can meet specific needs, and refreshments. Small travel bags of nonperishable food go with guests.
Michael Duffy from Trinity Cathedral, co-ordinator of the DEO team, rosters volunteers in to serve monthly or quarterly, though a core group serves more often. Come see what DEO is doing on a Tuesday, and talk to Michael if you feel pulled to be part of this ministry.
– Betsy Blake Bennett
Saturday, June 22, dozens of Episcopalians from numerous Nebraska parishes gathered amidst a sea of rainbows in downtown Council Bluffs to march in the Heartland Pride Parade. The spirit was joyful and upbeat as faithful laity and clergy marched to extend the Episcopal Church’s welcome to the GLBT community and their allies. It was apparent from this group that welcome, like God’s grace, is so much more than a word.
Members and clergy from seven local parishes share Christ’s message
of welcome at the Heartland Pride Parade
Kicking off this grand event on Thursday, June 20, Fr. Jason Emerson (Church of the Resurrection, Omaha) and Fr. Randy Goeke (Church of Saint Mary in the Sandhills, Bassett) participated in an interfaith candlelight prayer vigil in Stinson Park. The prayers and Fr. Jason’s sermon there brought to awareness the great resource faith and prayer can and need to be in standing in solidarity with those who are victims of bullying, discrimination and hate.
Both Friday and Saturday (June 21 and 22) members of the newly formed Nebraska Chapter of Integrity, gave out free bottles of water, “anointed” the hot and weary with sun screen, and shared their stories of the Episcopal Church’s welcome of GLBT folks during Heartland Pride’s fair held in Stinson Park. The response of those seekers stopping by Integrity’s booth was overwhelmingly positive. Numerous parish lists and literature about our wonderful old church were given out to the very colorful crowd. Thanks to Bishop Barker and all the clergy and laity who helped make this important witness a reality.
Fr. Randy Goeke